During a debate over a proposed anti-abortion bill on Monday, an Idaho lawmaker revealed a laughable degree of ignorance about basic female anatomy when he asked whether a woman could have a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a tiny camera.
According to the Associated Press, Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri (R) posed the ridiculous question to a doctor who was testifying against the proposed legislation during a hearing of the House State Affairs Committee. Dr. Julie Madsen had to explain to him that it’s not possible, because swallowed items, like pills and food, do not end up in the vagina. “Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid laughter from the crowd.
The Idaho legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban the use of telemedicine abortion, which allows doctors to remotely provide medication abortion services. In a rural state like Idaho, telemedicine abortion has the potential to expand access to reproductive health care among women who live far away from the nearest abortion clinic and might not have any other options for safe abortion.
Here’s how it works: A woman goes into her local Planned Parenthood health centers or another participating health clinic and meets with a medical professional (usually a nurse). She then gets an ultrasound and some lab work done and is counseled on the specifics of the procedure. Finally, she has a video conference with a physician and the local clinician and decides whether a medically-induced abortion is the right course of action for her individual situation. If it is, the doctor checks a box on a computer screen, which sends a signal to unlock a cabinet holding the abortion medication. The patient takes the medication in the clinic while the doctor is watching and then takes the second pill at home 24 to 48 hours later.
The scientific evidence clearly shows that telemedicine abortion is extremely safe and effective. For instance, one recent study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that 99 percent of women who received telemedicine abortion care had successful, complication-free abortions, compared with just over 97 percent of women who saw a doctor in person (and for both groups, serious complications were so rare that they were statistical anomalies). Additionally, patients who have used the service report very high levels of satisfaction — slightly higher, in fact, than women who had office visits. The same is true for follow-up care, with no discernible differences between women who check in via telephone and those who come back to the clinic for an office visit.
Idaho, which does not currently have any clinics that offer telemedicine abortion, joins a growing number of states looking to preemptively ban the procedure. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 16 states have passed laws banning telemedicine abortion since 2011, though some of these measures have been blocked by the courts. Like many other abortion restrictions, bans on telemedicine abortion are medically unnecessary and primarily designed to chip away at women’s right to choose.
Indeed, doctors and other medical professionals overwhelmingly object to such legal restrictions on medical abortion because they make it harder for women to access abortion earlier in pregnancy, when the procedure is less invasive and far less expensive. Ibis Reproductive Health, a non-profit research organization, has concluded that “restricting telemedicine for medication abortion is not evidence based, and limits women’s access to high-quality abortion care, particularly in rural areas.”
Nevertheless, the House committee on Monday approved the bill on a straight party-line vote, 13-4, with the four Democrats on the committee issuing the only objections. The legislation will now come up for a full vote in the Idaho House. Meanwhile, in the state Senate, Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require abortion providers to obtain medically unnecessary admitting privileges at a local hospital, which leading medical groups are strongly opposed to. Unfortunately, the dangerous measures have a good chance of advancing, since both chambers of the state legislature are GOP-controlled.
In the short time since the 2015 legislative session began, Republican lawmakers have already introduced more than 100 anti-abortion bills. Nationwide, GOP legislatures have enacted more than more than 230 state-level restrictions on abortion in just the past four years.